and race week
and the new changes to the Women's Boat Race (women row too! :D)
but these things, for the moment, can wait. This post has been written and deleted twice now, and I'm still not happy with it. It is apparently very difficult to write about The Boat Race.
I write to you from Henley as CUWBC does it's final preparations in the last week before the Henley Boat Races. It is an exceedingly odd time of year - while 'normal' rowing clubs emerge from WeHORR and the Head of the River (or 'Man HORR' as us girls know it) and begin to gear up for the summer racing a few months in the future, the Oxford and Cambridge University clubs face the biggest race of their year.
Look in the constitutions of any of the Cambridge or Oxford clubs and you will see a phrase along the lines of "The sole function of this club is to defeat Oxford/Cambridge* at the Boat Race" (*delete as appropriate). One race. That is all that matters. You do not gauge the success of your season by PBs achieved, pennants won on the Tideway, medals hung round your neck in the summer. Did you win your boat race? Which shade of blue crossed the finish line first?
To others it seems perverse, backwards even. Other Universities have Varsity matches (Durham/Newcastle, Bristol/Bath) but they are merely another fixture on the full calendar of summer racing. However, in the weird, twisted Oxbridge bubble, these races are all.
I began my personal quest to win a boat race back in 2008. I had more hair, much less kit, was scrawny as and was even allowed to stroke boats back then. I also did not yet own The Oakleys :-(
|LOL CATCH TIMING. I still maintain the ability to never wear enough kit.|
I knew then there was something I had to do. I had to know what it felt like to Win. That. Fucking. Race.
It knaws away at you. It gets into your soul. You know you have to go out there again and put yourself on the line because you must know what it feels like to win.
This is a universal thing among rowers, I believe. Rowing is about suffering and finding out how much you can make yourself suffer. Some things (the best things?) are worth suffering for. You don't get up at 5am out of a sense of duty or because other people need you, you get up and train because you want to win and you know this is the price of winning.
Often when you read about rowing, and especially university rowing, the word "sacrifice" gets mentioned a lot. I have always found this odd. Sure, I would've gone to a lot more dinners and visited a lot more pubs and probably spent more time figuring out maths. But you know what, not doing that stuff was never a sacrifice. I can honestly say I've learnt more about myself facing my demons on the Henley Reach and in Ely and on the erg and doing MASSIVE WEIGHTS then I would have spending that time drinking in a pub. (Also, beer is gross).
No matter where I am or what I'm doing, it takes no effort at all to imagine myself back on that stake boat. No other race is like this. I couldn't tell you which lane I was in in the 2010 Nat Champs, or how I felt waiting for the start of Fours Head in 2009. But sitting on that stake boat in Henley, waiting. How I felt, the blade handle in my hand. That image is crystal clear and always will be. Oxford cheering before you've crossed the finish line. That shit hurts and I know I will never forget it. The shock and despair in 2009, the crushing inevitability of 2010 and thinking "I will never, ever put myself through this again" as I tried to lose myself in my footwell and cease to exist.
It's just such a personal race. It's just you and them, one winner and no second place. It is pure, clear cut and utterly brutal. You must crush them or they will crush you. Everything that rowing stands for, in my mind, concentrated.
You sit on the stake boat and the unknown yawns in front of you. You know it will hurt and that you will well and truly throw yourself into the abyss to cross the line first. But will it be enough? It is not like you can content yourself with a silver medal or move on to the next race of the season. This IS the season and there is no second place.
This is how and why I will find myself yet again lining up against Oxford this coming Sunday. 6 minutes of racing. Glorious agony. Victory or failure.
Vengeance. Fours years is a long time.
|Photo credit Jimmy Appleton|